Why should we care about sustainable and ethical fashion, anyway?
Hello, dear reader! I know it’s been a little while, but… Do you notice anything new? Yep, I’ve completely redesigned my blog! Along with my new, beautiful site, I’ve come back with a renewed sense of purpose for restitchstance.
In the past five months, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable and ethical fashion. If you’ve followed along, thanks so much for learning and growing with me. What I’ve realized from talking to this community is that a lot of you are interested in learning more about sustainable and ethical fashion, but have no idea where to even start—and my blog has been a messy diary of my own fumbling journey into slow fashion, rather than a comprehensive guide.
I want Restitchstance to be your starting place (like it was mine!), and a space where we can learn and help each other do less harm with more style. From now on, I’ll work to create more informational content to guide your slow fashion journey, in addition to styling and lifestyle inspiration.
Today, we’re going back to the basics. Let’s talk about what sustainable and ethical fashion is in the first place and why it matters.
First, let’s talk about the fast fashion industry.
Fast fashion makes up the majority of the fashion industry and includes big brands like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M. These brands constantly sell new styles according to trends, which quickly become popular and then die out. With as many as 52 “micro-seasons” a year, the fast fashion industry continually pushes new, trendy, cheaply made, “disposable” clothing on consumers.
While trends can be really fun, the problem lies in the huge environmental and ethical costs that come with manufacturing clothing.
The environmental cost of fast fashion
Fast fashion brands manufacture cheap clothing meant to last only a couple years, knowing that consumers will keep buying new, trendier clothing as old trends die out. This means that we over-consume and treat our clothing as disposable, so a large amount of clothing ends up in landfills.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded (1). Discarded clothing made from synthetic fibers don’t end their environmental impact there—unnatural fibers have been treated with many chemicals which then leach into the environment through the ground, or air if the clothing is incinerated, and also take hundreds to thousands of years to biodegrade (2).
In addition, it takes a lot of resources to manufacture an article of clothing. It takes up to 2,700 liters (700 gallons) of water to produce the cotton needed for a single T-shirt (3). That’s more water than you’d drink in 12 years, assuming the average American drinks 58 gallons a year (4).
The ethical cost of fast fashion
The fashion industry also has a nasty history of worker exploitation. Factory workers are often underpaid or work in unsafe conditions. The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh of 2013, which killed over 1,100 people, served as a recent and stark wake-up call for the fast fashion industry (5). While the exploitation of textile and garment workers often happens overseas, sweatshops also exist in the U.S. (see this recent article about Forever 21’s LA sweatshops) (6).
Um, wow I am horrified. What’s being done to change the industry?
The fashion industry has taken some steps to address these concerns. Lately the conscious fashion movement, including sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion, has been gaining more traction.
What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion brands take measures to minimize their impact on the environment, whether that’s using eco-friendly factories or recycled or organic textiles. Unfortunately, there’s no standardized definition of sustainable fashion and these attempts at sustainability are full of nuances that are complicated and sometimes contradictory (like how recycling materials like polyester is considered “sustainable,” but polyester fabric releases toxins into the environment, especially when we wash our clothes!)—but that’s a post for another day.
Sustainability as a lifestyle also means not buying an excessive amount of clothing and contributing to landfill waste. Even if you donate your old clothes, the majority of donated clothing ends up in landfills because only 20% of donated clothing gets sold (2).
Okay, so what about ethical fashion?
Ethical fashion brands use responsible factories that meet certain safety guidelines and pay workers a fair wage. Look for brands that use SA800-certified factories or that own their factories where they are able to regulate working conditions and pay workers fairly.
Another aspect of ethical fashion is transparency. Fast fashion is profitable despite the harm it does because we are distanced from the workers who make our clothes and from how dirty the process is. When I shop, I like to see detailed information about a brand’s commitment to sustainability and ethics, not just a vague corporate responsibility blurb (an example of a brand that practices “radical transparency” is Everlane, because they tell consumers where products are made and what the markup is). But again, a post for another day.
And slow fashion?
Another term you may have heard is slow fashion. Slow fashion is a movement in opposition to fast fashion (surprise!). Rather than trying to sell you trends that quickly become obsolete, sucking you into a never-ending cycle of constantly buying cheaply made clothes meant to only last a couple years, slow fashion brands try to sell high quality, timeless items meant to last you a long time. Slow fashion ties neatly into sustainable and ethical fashion because buying fewer, better things is the best way to practice sustainability and ensure that our clothes are made ethically.
Great. What can I do as a consumer?
Sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion are part of living consciously and doing less harm to the environment and to the people who make your clothing.
I encourage you to think a second longer about your next clothing purchase. Who made it? Were they paid and treated fairly? What was the cost to the environment? How long will this item be in your life?
I know it’s really difficult to shop consciously, especially when it’s super expensive to buy from slow fashion brands. But it’s not just about buying from certain brands; loving fashion in a more conscious way means buying less new clothing and not treating clothes as disposable.
Trying to be more conscious about my fashion choices isn’t a way for me to feel better about myself or pat myself on the back. I know I can always do better and that the fashion industry can always do better. I’m still figuring out how to be stylish in a sustainable and ethical way. If you’re down to break the cycle of environmental harm and exploitation in the fashion industry, together, then I hope you’ll follow along with my journey on this blog.
Moving forward, I’ll be writing more informative, researched posts like this one. If you don’t want to miss a post, be sure to subscribe to my (new!) e-mail newsletter below!
Dress: bought secondhand from Crossroads
Sunnies: stolen from the bf
P.S. These pictures were taken in the beautiful VanDusen botanical garden in Vancouver, BC! See more Vancouver pix on my Instagram 🙂